Patent application title: Modular Computed and Direct Radiography Assembly And Method
Stephen Neushul (Palos Verde, CA, US)
IPC8 Class: AG01T128FI
Class name: Radiant energy luminophor irradiation
Publication date: 2012-06-21
Patent application number: 20120153186
The present invention is directed to a modular scanning apparatus that
can be advantageously used in both computed radiology devices and fixed
scanning direct radiology devices. The scanning assembly advantageously
utilizes a light collecting and measuring assembly having highly
reflective surfaces in conjunction with a novel optical assembly within a
light box type enclosure to enable a modular scanning and reading
assembly that is compact, robust and also scaleable. The present
invention further discloses novel computed radiography and direct
radiography devices that utilize the modular scanning assembly to provide
radiology devices that are highly robust and efficient and yet also
simple to build, maintain, service and repair.
1. A scanning assembly for use as part of a radiography device, said
scanning assembly comprising: An exterior housing adapted to be
removeably supported within the radiography device and to restrict the
transfer of light through said housing; An optics assembly secured within
the exterior housing and adapted for generating and scanning a focused
laser beam through a narrow elongated opening positioned along one side
of the housing, said optics assembly comprising a laser and a rotating
mirror assembly, a plurality of folding mirrors adapted for directing the
scanning laser beam through the elongated opening in the housing; and a
light collection assembly having a plurality of generally opposing curved
reflective surfaces and a light measuring device; An erasure assembly
coupled to the optics assembly and secured within the housing and adapted
to remove latent image information stored in a phosphor imaging plate
used with said radiography device. Wherein and the light collection
assembly is adapted to receive and measure light received from the
elongated opening in the housing and at least one of said folding mirrors
is adjustably mounted within said housing.
2. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein at least a portion of the reflective surface is an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene.
3. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the laser and rotating mirror assembly further comprises an adjustable support base mounted within the housing and adapted to allow relative adjustments of the laser scanning.
4. The scan scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the erasure assembly is directly coupled to a heat sink.
5. The scanning assembly of claim 4 wherein at least one of the reflective surfaces and the heat sink comprises a single component that is made from an extruded alloy material.
6. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the plurality of folding mirrors comprises three front surface reflectivity mirrors.
7. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the reflective surfaces comprises a pair of opposing concave reflective surfaces that are oriented such that light contacting the surface is reflected to the light measuring device.
8. The scanning assembly of claim 7 wherein the light measuring device comprises a plurality of photo multiplier tubes coupled to at least one of said reflective surfaces.
9. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the opposing reflective surfaces comprises a plurality of opposing interior cylindrical surfaces that are spaced apart to provide a narrow elongated slit in-between, at least one of said cylindrical surfaces having an opening oriented perpendicular to its axes and adapted to receive the light measuring device, and wherein at least a portion of the opposing interior surface are lined with a synthetic fluoropolymer.
10. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the housing is light tight and adapted to only allow light through the elongated narrow opening between the reflective surfaces.
11. The scanning assembly of claim 1 wherein the housing further comprises coupling means for positioning and mounting the scanning assembly within the radiology device.
12. A radiography device for use with an imaging plate cassette comprising: A frame assembly having a plurality of elongated frame members spaced apart along a parallel axis; A removable scanning assembly having a housing removeably coupled between the spaced apart elongated frame members, said scanning assembly further comprising an optical assembly and a light collecting assembly and adapted for scanning a focused laser beam across and measuring light energy received from the imaging plate cassette; A cassette carriage assembly moveably coupled to at least one of the elongated frame members and adapted for supporting the imaging plate cassette; A drive assembly coupled to the cassette carriage assembly and to at least one elongated frame member, said drive assembly adapted to move the cassette carriage relative to the scanning assembly so that an imaging plate within the cassette carriage may be scanned by the scanning assembly; and A plurality of covers coupled to at least one of the elongated frame members so as to enclose a substantial portion of the radiography device; Wherein the plurality of covers comprises a movable cover adapted to allow access to the scanning assembly such that said cover may be moved allowing the scanning assembly to be removed from the radiography device.
13. The radiography device of claim 12 further comprising an electronics module that is electronically connected to the scanning assembly and to the drive assembly, said electronics module adapted for controlling the operations of the scanning assembly and drive assembly so as to acquire imaging data from the scanning assembly.
14. The radiography device of claim 12 wherein the elongated frame members comprises an extrusion from an aluminum alloy.
15. The radiography device of claim 12 wherein each elongated frame member comprises a plurality of elongated frame members mechanically coupled together to form an integral frame member.
16. The radiography device of claim 12 wherein the optical assembly is adapted for generating and scanning a laser beam through a narrow elongated opening along one side of the housing and the light collection assembly further comprises a plurality of reflective surfaces that are adapted to reflect light received from a laser scanned imaging plate to a light measuring device; Wherein at least a portion of the reflective surfaces comprises a synthetic fluoropolymer to enhance reflectivity.
17. The radiography device of claim 12 wherein the synthetic fluoropolymer is an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene.
18. The radiography device of claim 12 wherein the removable scanning assembly further comprises an erasure assembly coupled to the light collection assembly and is adapted for altering the energy stored in the imaging plate after being scanning by the laser.
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 The present application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/197,221 filed on Aug. 8, 2008.
 The present invention relates generally to digital radiography systems and more specifically to modular digital radiography devices and methods that can be used in both computed and direct radiography.
 Computed radiography ("CR") systems generate a digital image of an x-ray by scanning an x-ray storage phosphor imaging plate that has been exposed to x-ray energy, usually while at least partially housed in a cassette. The re-useable imaging plate replaces the need for previously conventional x-ray film. The imaging plate is typically coated with photostimulable storage phosphors allowing it to store the energy received from the x-ray irradiation. The cassette encases the imaging plate and prevent exposure from ambient and other light sources
 In a typical CR operation, the desired object is x-rayed from one perspective with the imaging pate generally positioned on the opposite side so as to capture those x-rays passing through the object. This results in a latent image being formed and stored on the imaging plate. Multiple plates may be used for multiple x-rays images of the desired object or person or for a larger x-ray image. After exposure by x-rays, the imaging plate is encased in its cassette and taken to a CR system for image processing.
 The CR device creates an image by stimulating the storage phosphors within the imaging plate using a laser beam, typically with a wavelength between 600 to 800 nm, driven across the irradiated area of the imaging plate. Point by point or line by line stimulation by the laser causes the imaging plate to release light in direct proportion to the latent energy previously stored as a result of the x-ray irradiation hitting the surface of the phosphors. The light released by the imaging plate is captured by the CR scanning and optical system and converted into an electrical signal. This signal is then converted to digital data that can be manipulated and ultimately viewed on a monitor, printed, transferred to remote systems for further analysis, storage or computations.
 Various companies produce CR systems with each using slightly different means for exciting the phosphor plate and capturing the released light energy as well as handling the imaging plate. The advantages and drawbacks of these CR systems relative to other radiography systems are well known. Commonly cited drawbacks include the need to typically handle the imaging plate within a cassette, the burden of moving the imaging plate cassette from the x-ray exposure position to the CR system and then scanning it to obtain the desired image. in addition to requiring additional handling, these efforts increase the time before an image is actually created by the CR system. Other cited drawbacks include the overall size of the system, cost and complexity of the devices, including the time and costs associated with repairing and maintenance.
 Direct radiography ("DR") systems arc another form of x-ray imaging similar to CR systems in that they typically employ phosphor scintillation materials to generate an image. These systems, however, do not use cassettes containing imaging plates. In a typical DR system, the x-ray energy is directed through the desired object and onto a DR imaging plate assembly. The typical DR imaging plate utilizes phosphor scintillation material bonded to pixel sized sensors. X-ray energy hitting the phosphor layer generates energy that is sensed by each pixel sensor within the detector and sent directly to the DR system amplifications electronics for generation of the image or other data. In a DR system, no intermediate steps or processes are required to obtain the image data.
 In addition to generally eliminating the burden and time required to move the imaging plate cassette from the x-ray position to the CR system, most DR systems also advantageously utilize a sealed imaging plate. Because the sealed plate does not need to maintain stored x-ray energy or be moved for processing, the risk of ambient light or other contaminants affecting the otherwise stored latent image is eliminated.
 In some DR systems, a storage phosphor plate is utilized with a line by line capture of light data using a CCD or CMOS solid state line scanning sensor. These devices are typically limited by the type of sensor used and the cost of the high light output storage phosphor needed when using a line by line scanning system. In addition, these devices are typically relatively large in size.
 The present invention is directed to a modular laser scanning and reading apparatus that can be advantageously used in both computed radiology and fixed scanning direct radiology devices. The present invention also discloses a novel computed radiology devices utilizing the modular scanning assembly and novel frame elements. The present invention discloses a scanning assembly or scan head for use in a digital radiography device comprising an exterior housing that is adapted to be coupled within the digital radiography device. An optics assembly is secured within the scanning assembly housing and is adapted for generating and scanning a focused laser beam through a narrow elongated opening positioned along one side of the scanning assembly housing and that can he directed over an imaging plate. The optics assembly includes a laser, a scanning assembly and a plurality of folding mirrors that are adapted to scan the laser beam and direct the scanning laser beam through the opening in the scanning assembly housing and over a positioned imaging plate. The scanning assembly also includes a light collection and light measuring assembly secured within the housing. The light collection assembly includes a plurality of generally opposing curved reflective surfaces that are adapted to reflect light received through a reading slot in the scanning assembly housing and direct it to a light measuring device. The light measuring devices forward the light information to an electronics module for image processing.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 Embodiments of the invention are illustrated by way of example and not by way of limitation in the figures of the accompanying drawings in which like references indicate similar elements. It should be noted that different references to "an" or "one" embodiment in this disclosure are not necessarily to the same embodiment, and such references mean at least one.
 FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of an embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 2 shows an exploded partial assembly view of an embodiment the present invention.
 FIG. 3A shows a perspective partial disassembled view of an embodiment of CR system of the present invention with the covers removed.
 FIG. 3B shows a side view of an embodiment of a partially disassembled frame assembly of the CR system of the present invention.
 FIG. 3C shows a front view f an embodiment of the frame assembly of the CR system of the present invention.
 FIG. 3D shows a rear view of an embodiment of a partially disassembled frame assembly of the CR system of the present invention.
 FIG. 4 shows a perspective view of an embodiment of the scanning assembly adapted for use in the CR device of the present invention.
 FIG. 5 shows an exploded view of an embodiment of the frame assembly of the CR system of the present invention.
 FIG. 6 shows a partial exploded view of an embodiment of the frame assembly and the covers of the CR system of the present invention.
 FIG. 7 shows an embodiment of the DR system of the present invention
 FIG. 8 shows a perspective view of an embodiment of the DR system of the present invention with the outer top cover removed.
 FIG. 9 shows an exploded view of the frame assembly of the DR system of the present invention showing a rail for supporting a scanning assembly.
 FIG. 10 shows a perspective view of an embodiment of the DR system of the present invention with the scanning assembly and support rail being installed into the frame.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
 Existing computed radiography ("CR") designs providing quality imaging characteristics and methods are complex and expensive to manufacture, maintain and repair. The problems of expense and complexity of manufacture, maintenance and repair are generally deemed worse when associated with existing direct radiography ("DR") designs. In addition, downtown costs associated with maintaining and servicing current CR and DR devices, can be critical with such existing designs.
 In the present design and methods, novel modular components and assemblies are provided that find application in both CR and fixed imaging plate scanning devices, including DR applications. The novel design and application of these modular systems and components minimize or avoid altogether, the high costs and delays previously associated with repairs and maintenance. For example, the use of the presently designed modular systems generally eliminates the requirement that the radiology device he shipped back to the manufacturer or service facility for major service or repair or delays in getting qualified service technicians to the repair site.
 More specifically, the present invention discloses a novel modular laser scanning and reading assembly that is adapted to work with drive and frame assemblies and a modular electronics assembly to create a modular built radiology device. The present invention further discloses a novel DR device that provides high resolution images and reliability of traditional CR devices but retains the compact and scaled imaging plate advantages of traditional DR devices.
 Referring now to FIG. 1, the present invention provides a modular scanning assembly 1 also referred to as a scan head assembly that is adapted for use with both CR and DR type devices. In the illustrated embodiment, the scanning assembly 1 includes an external housing 3 that is configured to maintain a generally light and dust tight internal environment and structurally support the internal optics. An elongated opening or slit 4 is provided on the underside of the housing 3 and adapted to allow for external scanning of the laser beam and also reading of image data from an imaging plate or plates as the scan head 1 scans over the imaging plate. The reading slit 4 may be covered with a light transparent material such as a glass to restrict the entry of dust or other contaminants or assist in focusing the laser beam.
 The housing 3 preferably includes the ability to remove heat, including an air vent such as opening 5. To increase the removal of warm air, opening 5 is fitted with a fan 6. The fan 6 is used to move air and particularly, remove a air from inside the housing 3 and maintain the internal optics and electronics at preferred operating temperature. The opening 5 is adapted to restrict light entry into housing 3 and is preferably fitted with a light restricting brush (not shown) that allows for air transfer or similar device to restrict light entry. Alternatively, fan 6 may be used to draw in air, creating a positive pressure environment within the optical assembly and keeping out contaminants.
 The housing 3 is also fitted with an electrical and data connection 7, including an electrical/data plug or receptacle for connection with an electronics module (not shown) external to scan head 1. The scanning assembly 1 requires electrical power for operation and transfer means for transferring image data. Thus, electrical connection 7 may comprise a plurality of electrical and data connection points, including separate ports for power and for data transfer.
 The housing 3 is also fitted with mounting means for securing the scanning assembly 1 into the desired digital radiology device. In the embodiment shown, the housing 3 is fitted with a pair of mounting pins 8 that protrude outwardly from opposing side walls. Pins 8 are adapted to fit into mating slots provided within the desired radiology device. These slots or grooves may include a desired path to assist in the installation and removal of the scan head 1. Pins 8 may be made from small diameter rod that is bolted, welded or otherwise secured to the side wall of housing 3. Alternatively, or in addition, scanning assembly 1 may be provided with mounting clips or brackets 9. The use of brackets 9 allows the scanning assembly 1 to be secured within the desired radiology device through the use of fasteners that secure to the radiology device.
 During installation, pins 8 are inserted into matching slots fitted within the frame or housing of a desired radiology device. With the pins 8 positioned within their mating slots, scan head 1 may then be rotated or positioned into the radiology device and preferably, between the frame members. Once positioned, the scanning assembly 1 may be secured to the frame or radiology device housing using fasteners fitted through brackets 9. To remove the scanning assembly 1, the fasteners are removed from the brackets 9 and the scan head is simply rotated and pulled until the pins 8 are withdrawn from the matching slots within the radiology device. To fully remove the scan head 1, all electrical and data connections (not shown) would also be removed.
 By providing radiology devices having matching mounting means, the scanning assembly 1 advantageously provides a modular optical and scanning system that can be readily installed or removed from any such configured device. Most any method of securing the scanning assembly 1 within the desired radiology device may be used. The presently described embodiment only requires two fasteners through mounting brackets 9 and along with pins 8 and matching slots in the frame members, substantially reduces the chance of a failed or incorrect installation. This simple installation and removal procedure eliminates the need for specialized service technicians for servicing because the entire scanning assembly 1 can now simply be replaced with a replacement unit as opposed to servicing or repair.
 Referring now to FIG. 2 in conjunction with FIG. 1, an exploded view of the scanning assembly 1 is shown and particularly of the novel and compact optical assembly contained within housing 3. A laser assembly 10, includes a laser, galvo and attached rotating mirror assembly secured together using a novel bracket that preferably also supports folding mirror 11. Laser assembly 10, in conjunction with a unique focusing mirror arrangement, is adapted for scanning the laser beam through the narrow elongated opening 4 oriented along one side of housing 3. The supporting "H" style bracket of the laser assembly 10 is preferably secured within housing 3 using vibration dampening mounts and methods as are well known.
 A light collection assembly 12 is also mounted within the housing 3. The light collection assembly 12 includes a plurality of opposing reflecting surfaces 13 and 14 adapted to reflect light received from the scanned imaging plate (not shown) onto a pair of light measuring and amplification devices 15. Preferably, the light measuring and amplification devices 15 are photomultiplier tubes but may also comprise CCD sensors, CMOS sensors, silicone diode sensors or similar light measuring devices coupled with necessary amplification electronics. The light collection assembly 12 is specifically adapted to receive and measure light from an imaging plate as it is scanned by a focused laser beam from laser assembly 10.
 Reflecting surfaces 13 and 14 are preferably opposing interior cylindrical surfaces with an end cap 16 secured and covering each end. End caps 16 are advantageously designed to maintain proper spacing between reflective surfaces and aid in reflecting light to light measuring sensors 15. All reflective surfaces are adapted to enhance reflectivity and may be polished. Preferably, reflective surfaces 13 and 14 and end caps 16 are covered with a highly reflective coating or surface layer to ensure the maximum amount of light received from the scanned imaging plate is directed to the photo multiplier tubes 15. Any highly reflective coating, polishing or reflective surface material and method could be used, including a layer or coating of a synthetic fluoropolymer. In one embodiment, a layer of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene such as one available from WL Gore & Associates, Inc. is used on reflective surfaces. The reflective material is cut to shape and adhered to and covers the reflective portions of cylindrical surfaces 13 and 14 and end caps 16. Alternatively such reflective material may also be spray applied, hot melt applied or applied as specified by the manufacture of the desired reflective material. Reflective coatings and surfaces may and may also be used on all reflective surfaces within the scanning assembly 1. Similarly, all non reflective surfaces within the scanning assembly 1 may be covered with or coated with a non-reflective material to reduce unwanted light reflection.
 In one embodiment, reflective surfaces 14 and 15 are one piece integral components, including surfaces adapted for mounting and securing other components and are made from an extruded material such as an extruded aluminum. At least one of the reflective surfaces 14 may include a heat sink 17 for removing heat. Heat sink 17 advantageously removes heat, enabling the use of an integral eraser assembly within the scanning assembly 1. To reduce costs and complexity and increase heat transfer, heat sink 17 or heat sinks are extruded as part f reflective surface extrusion 14. In the present embodiment, reflective surface 14 and heat sink 17 form an integral aluminum extrusion that is adapted to secure an integral erasure assembly 19. The reflective surface 14 and heat sink 17 extrusion is further adapted to remove sufficient heat allowing the erasure assembly 19 to operate concurrently during the scanning operation.
 Erasure assembly 19 comprises a light generating assembly adapted to illuminate the imaging plate after scanning to remove the latent image and ready the plate for further x-ray exposure. Preferably, the erasure assembly 19 comprises a plurality of light elements such as LEDs that are mounted on a strip and secured to the heat sink 17 so as to ensure heat transfer from the erasure lights to the heat sink. A heat transfer interface may be used between the heat sink 17 and erasure 19 to facilitate such heat transfer. In an alternative embodiment, a plurality of erasure assemblies may be used and each may be secured to a heat sink. Additional heat sinks 17 may be extruded as part of either reflective surface components 13 and 14 or both, or may he secured thereto. as needed for each particular digital radiography application. Preferably, erasure assembly 19 is spaced apart from scanning and reading slot 4 and separated using a light blocking device such as a caterpillar brush.
 In the optical assembly of the present scanning assembly 1, folding mirrors are advantageously used to reduce the otherwise necessary focal length required to ensure the laser beam from laser assembly 10 remains focused as it scans across the entire width of an imaging plate. Specifically, to ensure high quality reading of the data stored on imaging plates, it is imperative the scanning laser beam remain focused as it scans across the width of the plate. Typically, a focal distance of over twenty inches is necessary to maintain a focused laser beam on a conventional plate of width not exceeding 14 inches.
 The present invention advantageously maintains the relative focal length of conventional systems while reducing the actual physical length necessary for such focus. By using a folding mirror arrangement 20 and 11 in conjunction with the laser assembly 10 and a reading slot 4 oriented perpendicular to the imaging plate, the scanning assembly 1 maintains a focused laser beam across scan widths even greater than that of conventional imaging plates while advantageously reducing the size of the optical assembly 12 and thus the scanning assembly as well. The present optical system 12 uses a plurality of front surface reflectivity mirrors as folding mirrors to maintain the desired relative focal distance. In the presently disclosed embodiment, at least one of the folding mirrors 20 may be adjustably mounted within the housing 3 to allow for fine focus adjustment of the laser beam. In this embodiment, adjustable mounting bases 21 secure each end of the elongated return folding mirror 20. Rotating adjustment screws within the mounting bases 21 acts to advantageously adjust the folding mirror 20 along two dimensions.
 The embodiment shown utilizes three front surface reflectivity mirrors 20 and 11 to fold light in the corners, At least one of the mirrors 20 is generally the width of the widest desired imaging plate with another mirror 11 being much narrower and secured to the styled bracket of the laser assembly 10. The novel design of the present scanning assembly 1 provides for scaleability such that the laser beam may be maintained in focus across a wider scan width through minor adjustments to the laser assembly 10 and folding mirror arrangement 20 & 11 and only requiring correspondingly wider folding mirrors and scanning assembly. Computed Radiography Application.
 Referring now to FIGS. 3A-3D, a specific embodiment of the present invention enables an image reading device 50 utilizing an embodiment of the scanning assembly of the present invention 52 within a novel elongated frame assembly 54. The modular scanning assembly 52 is adapted to mount within the frame assembly 52 in a plug and play fashion to facilitate the assembly, maintenance, repair and disassembly of the imaging device 50. In the embodiment shown, the modular scanning assembly 52 is secured to the frame assembly 54 between the generally parallel elongated frame members 55 and 56 using a four point connection means.
 The computed radiology ("CR") imaging device 50 includes a cassette carriage module 58 for supporting an imaging plate cassette assembly such as the one described in U.S. Pat. No. 7,375,350 to Stephen Neushul. The carriage module 58 may also be adapted to support an imaging cassette and plate of most any size that can be driven within the frame assembly 54 such that the desired portion of the imaging plate (not shown) is driven past the scan head 52.
 A drive assembly 66 is secured to one side of the frame assembly 54 along frame member 55 and also coupled to the moveable carriage assembly 58. The drive assembly 66 is adapted to move the carriage 58 and any inserted imaging plate cassette from a first position at one end of the frame assembly 54 generally parallel with the elongated frame members 55 and 56 to a second position nearer the opposite end of the frame assembly such that the carriage assembly is driven over the scanning assembly 52 such that the imaging plate can be scanned. A carriage support plate 76 is coupled to the moving portion of the drive assembly 66 at one side and slideably coupled along an elongated rail 78 (FIG. 5) on the other side that extends along the length of frame member 56. The carriage 58 may also be supported by a second elongated bearing type rail support positioned parallel to and generally adjacent the drive assembly 66. The rails 78 may be supported and attached to frame members 55 and 56 through rail supporting members or directly attached with post supports, fasteners, welding, or any other method as is well known.
 An electronics module 80 is secured between frame members 55 and 56. The electronics module includes electrical couplers adapted to connect directly to the scan head module 52. In the embodiment shown, the electronics module 80 is secured within the frame assembly 54 between frame members 55 and 56 using a plurality of screws secured through brackets 82 on the frame module extending into the frame members. The electronics module, like the other modules and components of the present invention, may also be secured to the frame assembly 54 using other fastener types and securing means as are well known in the art.
 A frame end cap 86 secures the side frame members 55 and 56 at one end and advantageously acts to provide closure for the end of the CR device 50. In the embodiment shown, the end cap 86 acts as a base for the CR 50 and supports feet 88 adapted to prevent movement on the supporting surface and also to reduce vibration. Base supports 88 may be a rubber base that is secured to end cap 86 or alternatively any type of base or footing material may be used, such as the four pliable feet screwed into the end cap as shown in the Figure . An upper lateral frame member 89 extends laterally between frame members 55 and 56 and adds structural rigidity to the frame assembly 54 and further provides mounting locations for an exterior enclosure. Although the frame members 55. 56 and 87 and end cap 86 in the present embodiment are secured together using machine screws, they may also be secured using any other common means of fastening, including welding or even build from formed pieces.
 Referring now to FIG. 4, the modular scanning assembly 52 includes a housing 60 that is adapted for removable attachment to the frame assembly 54 to facilitate its installation, servicing and removal. The housing 60 includes an exhaust vent 61 that preferably incorporate a cooling fan and brush system to vent warm air without allowing ambient light penetration and electrical connectors 63 for electrical and data connection with the electronics module 80. Scanning slot 67 provides an opening within the housing 60 for the laser beam scanning and receiving the emitted light for measuring and reading the image. Erasure assembly 69 is secured to housing 60 and is adapted tar removing any latent image on the imaging plate.
 Brackets 62 extend from the scan head housing 62. Each bracket 62 is adapted to accept a fastener for securing the scan head 52 to the frame assembly 54. The brackets 62 show have holes for a fastener (not shown) to pass through and secure the scan head 52 to the respective frame members 55 and 56. Alternatively, the brackets 62 may be adapted to directly connect to a fastener, pin, clip, hook or other coupler fixed to the frame assembly 54 or the brackets may extend from the frame assembly 54. The brackets 62 may be constructed as part of the scan head housing 60 or secured to it using one of the many well known techniques such as fastening, riveting, welding, adhesion or a combination.
 In addition to brackets 62, the housing is also fitted with pins 64 located on opposite sides of the scan head housing 60. Each pin 64 is advantageously designed to mount into a slot 65 (FIG. 5) fitted to each frame member 55 and 56. The slot 65 is advantageously designed to allow for simply inserting and exact positioning of the scan head within the CR device 1. Thus, in the embodiment shown, the scan head module 52 is installed and removed using a four point attachment means and through the use of only two fasteners that secure it to the frame assembly 54.
 Referring now to FIG. 5, in conjunction with FIGS. 3A-3D, the drive assembly 66 includes a drive means 68, such as an acme type screw, that moves a drive plate 72 as it rotates or is otherwise driven. Spaced apart bearings 70 rotateably support the drive screw 68 and also secure the drive assembly 66 to the frame member 56. An electric motor 74 is attached to the drive screw 68 through coupler 75 and acts to rotate it. Preferably bearings 70 or similar rotation supporting devices arc located adjacent the ends of the drive screw 68 and as illustrated, secured to the frame member 56 using vibration reducing mounts and machine screws to ensure rigid vibration free support while allowing maximum drive plate 72 travel. For longer travels that necessitate additional drive axle support, additional support bearings may be used that are slideably attached to an elongated bearing or bushing support rail that is in turn secured to the frame assembly 54.
 The drive plate 72 is secured to the drive screw 68 through a drive block 73 that is driven along the drive screw 68 as it rotated by the electric motor 74. The drive assembly 66 is designed to be modular so as to facilitate installation, maintenance, repair and removal and well as to provide a very accurate and smooth drive mechanism. The drive assembly 66 could also be made using other means that accomplish accurate and smooth movement of the carriage assembly 58 along the length of the elongated frame members 55 and 56. For example, the presently described drive assembly 66 may be replaced with a linear motor assembly, a belt drive assembly a rack and pinion drive or any other drive means as commonly known in the art.
 Referring now to FIG. 6, an embodiment of the CR device 50 is shown with the drive module 66, electronics module 80 and scan head modules 52 installed within the partially disassembled frame assembly 54. To ensure the CR device 50 is light and dust tight, a back cover 89, upper front cover 90 and lower front cover 91, as well as top cover 92 are secured to the frame members 55 and 56. In one embodiment, covers, 89, 90, 91 and 92, are constructed from formed sheet metal, such as aluminum but may also be made from most any other durable material, including plastics and composites. The covers 89. 90 and 91 may be attached to the frame assembly 54 using machine screws or any other well known method, including, but not limited to, welding, snap fit, adhesives, formed covers that fit into slots, rivets, etc. The lower cover 91 is advantageously designed for removability and access to the scan head 52 and electronics module 80.
 Upper cover 92 includes and opening slot 93 for receiving an imaging plate and particularly and imaging plate cassette. The opening slot 93 includes means for restricting the entry of ambient light when the imaging cassette is inserted as well as when it is removed. These means for restricting outside light may include a light restricting brush or brushes placed along the length of the slot, gaskets, as well as other means as commonly used in the art.
 The frame assembly 54 is advantageously designed to form an exoskeleton that is sufficiently robust for a mobile type CR unit and rigid enough to support the precision drive module 66 and maintain the cassette drive path. The exoskeletal frame assembly 54 comprises a plurality of elongated side members that fit together and mate to form the generally opposing side frame members 55 and 56 which are secured to upper lateral frame member 87 and lower end cap 86. Although the lower frame end cap 86 and lateral frame member 87 are designed as separate members that are secured to the elongated frame members 55 and 56 using screw fasteners, they may also be welded, joined through a mechanical tongue and slot fitting without or with less fasteners, secured using any form of fasteners, welded together, or even formed as part of the elongated side frame members.
 In the embodiment shown, the frame members 55 and 56 each comprise a pair of extruded aluminum members that are joined along mating elongated edges to form a lightweight combination outer side wall and frame member. Specifically, frame member 55 is made from an angle extrusion 95 joined along an elongated side with a side extrusion 97. Similarly, side frame member 56 is made from an elongated angle extrusion 96 joined along an elongated edge with an elongated side extrusion 98. Each angle extrusion 95 and 96 is formed and adapted to geometrically mate, in a tongue and groove fashion, with the corresponding side frame member 97 and 98 along the mating elongated sides. The tongue and groove joint preferably extends along the length of the joined edges to increase rigidity, eliminate the need for fasteners and also prevent light intrusion. Joining each angled frame member 95 and 96 with respective side frame members 97 and 98 is readily accomplished by placing an extended tongue or lip that extends along the elongated side of the angled extrusion into a mating receiving groove or slot formed within the respective side frame member and rotating until the lip locks into the groove. Although the frame members could he secured using fasteners, adhesives or even welded together, the extruded tongue and groove creates a rigid assembly without the need or expense of such assemblies.
 By using extrusions 95 and 97 and 96 and 98 that are paired together in a tongue and slot fashion and are further uniquely formed for the specific CR device application along with lateral frame members, the present embodiment provides a rigid chassis assembly 54 capable of supporting the required device modules 52 and 80 and drive system 66. In this embodiment, the drive system 66 is supported and secured between the angled frame member 96 and the side frame member 98. In addition, the angled extrusions 95 and 96 are each advantageously formed with securing means for the scanning assembly 52, including slots 65 for receiving pins 64 and brackets 62 along with supporting surfaces for mounting rails 78 and for supporting the exterior covers of the CR device 50 such as lower front cover 91.
Direct Radiography Application.
 Referring now to FIG. 7, another specific embodiment of the present invention enables a direct radiography type ("DR") image reading device 100 utilizing an embodiment of the inventive scanning assembly. Similar to the CR device embodiment, the present modular scanning assembly readily mounts within a rigid frame assembly 104 to facilitate the assembly, maintenance, repair and disassembly of the DR type imaging device 100. In contrast to the CR device 50 of FIGS. 3A through 6, however, the present DR embodiments function by moving the scanning assembly along the elongated length of the DR device and over an imaging plate that is generally fixed in position and secured to the frame.
 Referring now to FIGS. 8 and 9, the frame assembly 104 of the DR device 100 comprises a pair of generally opposing elongated side frame members 105 and 106 and generally opposing lateral side members 108 and 109. The frame assembly 104 is advantageously designed to form an exoskeleton that is sufficiently robust for a mobile type DR unit and rigid enough to support a precision drive system 110 and operation. The frame assembly 104 is further adapted to receive and support a scanning assembly 102. Similar to the CR system embodiment of the present invention, the elongated frame members 105 and 106 are preferably made from an extruded aluminum or other extruded metal. Opposing lateral frame members 108 and 109 are also preferably made from an extruded metal but may also be made from a plastic.
 Drive assembly 110 is modular and similar to the disclosed drive assembly 66 utilized in the CR device 50 of FIG. 3 and includes a drive motor 111 coupled to a drive mechanism 112 through a shaft coupling 113. The drive mechanism 112 may be a drive screw, such as an acme type screw, that moves a mating internally threaded drive block 114 along its elongated axis as it is rotated by motor 111. In one embodiment, the drive motor is an electric motor with spaced apart bearings 115 rotateably supporting the acme type drive screw 112. The bearings 115 are preferably secured within a mount that secures the drive assembly 110 to the frame member 106 through a plurality of vibration mounts and fasteners.
 For imaging devices, including the DR device 100, having longer travels, additional support bearings 115 may be used to ensure a precision drive path is maintained. Alternatively, support hearings may be used that slide along an elongated bearing or bushing support rail that is in turn secured to the frame assembly 106 as well as increased drive assembly 110 components, including drive screw 112. Alternatively and as preciously discussed, different drive assembly may be used altogether so long as it maintains the necessary precision drive characteristics.
 A drive block and bracket 114 is secured to the scan head module 102. The drive block 114 mates with the drive screw 112 such that when motor 111 is rotated, the scanning assembly 102 is moved along rails 103 that are secured to each frame member 105 and 106. A plurality of side rail bearings 116 slideably couple the scanning assembly 102 to elongated rails 103. In the embodiment shown, multiple spaced apart bearings 116 are secured to one side of the scanning assembly 102 and the adjacent side rail 103 and a single bearing is coupled to the other side of the scanning assembly and coupled to the respective side rail. This design advantageously resists torque from transferring from the drive assembly 110 to the scan head 102 during operation. Rails 103 may be made from smooth elongated rods or cylinders and preferably from a non-corroding or static producing material such as a stainless steel or one having a plastic surface or coating.
 Similar to the disclosed CR embodiments, the DR device 100 includes an electrical interface 117 that is secured to one of the frame members 104 or 106 and is adapted for connection to a source of electrical power, such as a wall or other electrical outlet or battery supply. The electrical interface 117 is preferably also adapted to electronically connect with any desired receiver of image information, such as a computer, network, printer or the like though such connection may also be made using wireless methods as known in the art or transmitting information wirelessly. Electrical interface 117 is also adapted to electronically interconnect with the internal components, including the scanning assembly 102, the drive assembly 110 and the electronics module. Preferably all internal interconnects are with plug type wiring harnesses but may be interconnected using other means as is also well known. The electrical interface 117 may also he provided using multiple points of interconnection so as to facilitate wiring and the module assembly of device 100.
 Referring now to FIG. 10, the scanning assembly 102 is shown partially installed or removed from the frame assembly 104. In this embodiment, the scanning assembly 102 is installed or removed by simply uncoupling one or both of the rail supports 119 from frame assembly 104. Rail supports 119 are secured to lateral frame elements 109 and 109 through a plurality of fasteners. The scanning assembly 102, rails 103 and rail supports 109 can then simply be lifted out and removed from within the frame assembly. To fully remove the scan head 102, the electrical couplings between it and the electronics module and electrical interface must also be disconnected. Alternatively, the rail bearing 116 opposing the drive assembly 110 side may be a partial cylinder bearing such that it can be removed and installed on the rail 103 by merely lifting it off the rail. In this way, scanning assembly 102 may be removed and installed by simply removing the two rail supports 119 on the drive side rail 103. Alternative embodiments are contemplated wherein the scanning assembly 102 is secured to the DR device 100 through using any variety of fasteners. clips or other well known methods. In another embodiment, vibration dampeners are used between the scanning assembly 102 and the frame assembly 104.
 Once the scanning assembly module 102 is installed into the frame assembly 104 as generally illustrated in FIG. 8, the drive block and bracket 114 may he connected to the scanning assembly. An electronics module and imaging plate module (not shown) are also installed within the frame assembly 104 in similar fashion to the disclosed CR device embodiment of the present invention. An upper exterior cover 118 as illustrated in FIG. 7 and a lower exterior cover (not shown) are secured to the frame assembly 104 to provide further structural integrity while excluding light, dust and contaminants. Covers 118 are secured to the frame assembly 104 through fasteners though any method of securing typical sheet metal, plastic, composite or similar covers may be used. In the present embodiment, removal of the upper cover 118 allows access to the modular components, such as the scanning assembly 102.
 An imaging plate, such as a phosphor plate (not shown) may be secured to a support backing, such as a carbon fiber plate, that is in turn secured to frame assembly 104. The support backing is preferably transparent to x-rays and may be made from a carbon fiber, a glass or any other x-ray transparent material and may even be a plurality of materials with only the `read` area being made from x-ray transparent materials. The support backing provides a rigid support for the imaging plate and means for readily securing it to the frame assembly 104. The support backing may be secured to the frame members 105 and 106 using fasteners and positioned such that the scanning assembly 102 and particularly, the scanning and reading slot 4 of FIG. 1 can be moved over the entire plate.
 The imaging plate may be glued or otherwise adhered to backing or may be secured using any other means or methods as commonly known. In one embodiment, a flexible phosphor plate of approximately 14 inches by 17 inches is adhered to an approximately 15 inch by 19 inch by approximately 1/4 inch thick carbon fiber backing plate. In another embodiment, a phosphor imaging material, such as a needle or splined phosphor is directly deposited on the x-ray clear backing plate. To enhance durability and prevent contaminants, a protective surface or coating that is also clear to x-rays, such as a carbon fiber plate, may be applied over the needle phosphor material.
 In another embodiment of the present invention, the scanning assembly of the present invention is adapted for scanning larger imaging plates. In this embodiment, the scanning assembly is used in conjunction with a digital radiology device that is adapted for use with longer or even multiple imaging plates such that the scanning head assembly is allowed to continuously or incrementally scan along a longer run. This may he accomplished using a longer drive assembly and support rails within an embodiment of the present radiography device. Such embodiment is advantageously adapted for use with longer imaging plates, multiple adjacent imaging plates or even scanning along a roll of imaging plate material. In one embodiment, the scanning head assembly is used within a longer digital radiography device of the present invention so as to scan a series of plates along the entire length of a human patient.
 In another embodiment of the present invention, the scanning assembly of the present is adapted for use as an independent radiology device. In this embodiment, the scanning assembly may include internal electronics for processing or preliminary processing of image data of may simply transfer such information for processing by another device. The scanning assembly is coupled with an imaging plate support assembly and a light tight enclosure. The imaging plate support assembly is preferably adapted to support any desired imaging plate or imaging plate cassette. Alternatively, the scanning assembly may be adapted to he moved along a curved or non linear plurality of support rails to allow for reading of curved imaging plates.
 The foregoing description of the embodiments of the invention has been presented for the purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise forms or methods disclosed. Persons skilled in the relevant art can appreciate that many modifications and variations are possible in light of the above teaching.
Patent applications by Stephen Neushul, Palos Verde, CA US
Patent applications in class LUMINOPHOR IRRADIATION
Patent applications in all subclasses LUMINOPHOR IRRADIATION